Studio Grosses Continue Post-Blackout China Rebound

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By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

September 12, 2012

In China, 25 is the new 15.

Whereas 6 months ago a $15 million opening week in PRC theaters would have counted as a blockbuster success, that figure is now very old news. In September, $25 million is now the new gold standard.

Just 6 films have opened at $25 million or better in China so far this year, but half of these have come during the past two weeks, as 3 of the 4 latest Hollywood releases have hit or exceeded that mark during their first week of screenings. Expendables 2 joined the club this past week, and Prometheus came close, with just under $20 million in its first 7 days.

It’s no wonder that U.S. studio execs have become so combative about China’s efforts to protect its domestic films’ share of the PRC market. The studios are seeing the writing on the wall: China is their future.

The difference between U.S. and Chinese box office trends could hardly be more pronounced. Last week Chinese theaters had their second best week ever, while American theaters had their worst weekend in 11 years. China’s year-to-date box office total has now reached $1.8 billion and should easily exceed 30 percent growth again for all of 2012.

In an era of shrinking U.S. theatrical attendance and diminishing ancillary sales, the studios desperately need fresh, reliable sources of revenue. China has increasingly offered eye-popping box office bounties for action, fantasy, and sci-fi tent-poles.

The Expendables franchise represents a perfect example of this phenomenon. The prior film, 2010’s The Expendables, grossed $103 million in the U.S. and $31.8 million in China. That $31.8 million represented a solid 12 percent of the picture’s worldwide gross. Two years later, Expendables 2 grossed $38.8 million in its opening week in the U.S., and $25.2 million in China, and China will likely account for 20 percent of its final worldwide gross.

In the next year or so I expect we’ll start to see action and sci-fi tent-poles routinely grossing more in China than they do in the U.S.

With the summer blackout behind them, Hollywood films are once again dominating China’s box office. The four U.S. films in release took $60 million of last week’s $61 million aggregate nationwide gross, a 98 percent market share. The lone Chinese debut, Let it Be, managed to generate only $100,000 in revenue.

This week’s highly anticipated release of Chinese historical drama White Deer Plain has been delayed for unspecified reasons (possibly due to its nudity scenes), so the Hollywood blockbusters should enjoy two more weeks of relatively limited competition before the Golden Week holiday films—among them, Tai Chi 0, Dangerous Liaisons, and Double Xposure—start their runs in late September.

Robert Cain is a producer and entertainment industry consultant who has been doing business in China since 1987. He can be reached at and at

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